The elk hair caddis attached to the end of your tippet skates along the current paralleling the dead tree that has fallen from the far stream bank. The blackened trunk shows scars of a long ago fire, but today deep waters swirl around the large wooden blockade lodged deeply into the stream bed; you hope the caddis will coax the enormous rainbow trout you just know is hiding in the depths beneath the fire-scarred log.
Fire plays an important role in healthy forests as well as healthy streams, but this year's fire season-- with it's human death toll and economic impacts-- tell us that there is more to wildfire than the tired debate of 'let it burn' versus suppress everything. Trout and salmon are complex species that have evolved in a landscape of environmental disturbances. Just think about it, not only do these fish survive (and often thrive) through periods of fire, flood, and drought, they bounce back in stronger form with the addition of new structure in the stream that comes in the form of trees and boulders that have been washed in after a fire. Of course, to thrive trout must first survive the initial devastation of a wildfire and the immediate impacts like siltation, mudslides, and the loss of stream-side vegetative that keeps the water cool.
In July of this year the U.S. Forest Service published an informative piece that looked at how trout and salmon can survive in this era of enormous wildfires. Adaptation to Wildfire: A Fish Story, examines the resilience of trout and salmon that have adapted to changes in their environment since the last glacial period as well as depicting the modern challenges both face in a world of human impacts, including climate change.
The Forest Service piece poignantly notes that not only must trout and salmon find ways to adapt in a changing climate, but they must also do so in a world that has seen their habitat chopped up, reduced, and polluted. It's for these reasons that I dedicated several chapters of my book, Wyoming Mountains & Home-waters, to exploring why as fishermen we must not only appreciate the role wildfire plays on the landscape, but also understand that, for trout conservation to be successful, we must think in terms of the entire ecosystem. Only then can we ensure that the connections between healthy forests and healthy streams contribute to sustaining the sport and nature experiences that we love.
Interested in learning more about the connections between wildfire and trout conservation or what both mean for the sport of fly fishing? Then check out Wyoming Mountains & Home-waters: Family Fly Fishing, and Conservation, it explores these issues and much, much more!
Wyoming Mountains & Home-waters: Family, Fly Fishing, and Conservation is now available at Amazon in both print and Kindle versions (here).
I hope you enjoy the book and this blog!
Until next time,
Cheers & tight lines,
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